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Published: 2002/06/06
by Dan Alford

Topaz, Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden, Astoria, NY- 6/1

There is no better way to welcome the summer sun, and the long, lazy daze it fills, than with an outdoor, afternoon concert. Place that concert within walking distance of your flat, and you’ve got a recipe for contentment. Such was the case with the solar celebration at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden featuring Robert Randolph and the Family Band with guests Eric Krasno and Sam Kininger of Soulive, and DJ Logic. Both Kraz and Logic played for the majority of the 2-hour plus concert, but while Logic mainly stayed in the background, the young guitarist was at the forefront with solo after lengthy solo. As the dynamic of Soulive has changed, so has Eric’s style- he is much quicker to slip into a supporting role, passing off his solos in favor of rhythm work. Yet RR’s material is rather straightforward, and it begs for fast and furious playing. Eric, of course, was up to the challenge, tube screamers and all.

But before the Family Band and Friends hit the stage, while the sun was still high and bright over the northwest corner of Queens, it was the layered styling of Topaz that set the scene. The sextet’s horn powered dance beats and stylish strut grow more appealing with every listen. The construction of songs takes place before your ears as syncopated lines are placed atop each other, creating beds of groove upon which members can improvise and interact. Tewar might sculpt a solo from a mix of rhythm pops and short licks, as he did in Minha Mente, skirting the surface but sinking back comfortably into the movement. The deluge of sharp, high notes, into which Topaz’s following solo matured, stood out more initially, but as Squantch slid in for support on trombone, the groove bed swelled and absorbed the saxophonic sounds. In both cases, the solos were tied to the slipstream vibe that kept the feet a movin’.

In the mellower Ruta Maya the architecture was even more apparent and easily appreciated. Drummer Christian Urich spaced the kick with Jason Kriveloff’s bass just right, giving added scope to the soundscape. Ethan White stretched the Wurlitzer’s notes, causing them to resonate through the long, airy center of the song. A band of horns eventually rose to the surface, reestablishing the coda and easing through an exiting jam. Squantch waved his horn away from the microphone, producing a neat wobble as each layer of the band drifted off beneath him.

The highlight of the set, however, was The Shrine. The song is always dedicated to Fela Kuti, the Nigerian-born grandfather of World Beat music whose work is largely the inspiration for the music Trey Anastasio is now creating. (In fact, if you dig what Trey is doing, you really ought to check out Topaz- they are two limbs on the same tree.) Leaving the fuzzy effects of Ruta Maya behind, Squantch jumped right into a super clean solo, Kriveloff bending over to grind out a nasty bass line underneath. The interplay was thrilling, but as the trombone passed the lead to the guitar, the bass just got badder and badder. While he may not have been on fire for the whole show, Jason certainly made his presence felt here. The energy on the stage was evidenced by the mass of people dancing hard in the afternoon sun and cheering after each segment. The end of the tune was dominated by a wild experiment using just drums and tenor. The ensuing chemical reaction flashed brightly, burning up the amassed voltage and sending the whole group spiraling toward the end of the song. Everyone was panting and smiling summertime.

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